Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Ramblewoods and the Lost City of Atlantis...

I'm sure all of you are familiar with a street in Cape St. Claire called Ramblewood Dr. It parallels Green Holly, one of the main drags into the neighborhood, and then loops up and around the end of it. Along with Southview and Chestnut Tree, it defines the border between the Cape and the community of Atlantis.  Seagreen Dr. is the only way into and out of the lost city of Atlantis by car, and you have to go across or down Ramblewood to get there. What you might not know is that what is now just a suburban street was once a wooded realm...

I've heard a little of the history of the odd way that Atlantis is inserted into the bowels of the Cape. Apparently the last large piece of undeveloped land in Cape St. Claire was a wooded strip with the borders that I've described above ending on the shore of Deep Creek where it meets the Magothy. It was known locally as, the "Ramblewoods". Generations of Capers explored this wooded 60 or so acres and probably cut through it to reach the opposite end of the peninsula or the mouth of Deep Creek. I can only imagine how unique and cherished that section of untouched land must have been.

At some point the owner of the property made the inevitable decision to sell it to developers (early 80s?). Just about any one of us would have done the same at the opportune time, but it must have been crushing to those who lived in the Cape. While we of course don't hold this against our neighbors in Atlantis, I think there will always be a little resentment and a sense that the Ramblewoods should have remained untouched or somehow part of the Cape. An overhead picture of the newly cleared land and first paved streets of Atlantis hangs on the wall at Broadneck Grill above the table near the dessert display (my favorite seat in the house).

There is a palpably different feel to Atlantis than the Cape. When you pass from one into the other, there's no question that you're in a different place. Atlantis is wide, evenly paved roads and culdesacs with sidewalks and cute black lamposts neatly bordering the streets. The lawns are manicured in front of a mix of 80s/90s split foyers and 2-stories along with a strip of contemporary waterfront homes at the Deep Creek end. I envy the wide roads when I'm on a bike; of course, I covet their public water with every ounce of my being (see Aug. 13 post); and there's not a power line in sight (see previous post).

The Cape is all narrow, uneven, meandering, wooded roads with sidewalks only along the major arteries and then just on one side - the minimum to meet county requirements to get kids to school safely. The houses are a hodgepodge of 50s ranchers, 70s split foyers, 80s and 90s 2-stories, and upgraded waterfront showplaces. I affectionately used the term "rednecklectic" to describe our community in a previous post, and I think that pretty well sums it up.

But perhaps more than anything (with the exception of its water privileges), the Cape is defined by its trees. The first time I ever drove through Cape St. Claire, it was in the winter after a light snow, and the neighborhood was magical - the trees and yards dusted with a perfect frosting of white. I knew right then that this is where I wanted to live (OK - a million dollars in my pocket might have landed me in Amberley or Bay Ridge, but that ship has sailed). It was all about the trees and the wooded feel. True, it can be a pain when the wind blows and the power lines come down, but I blame that on power lines that should be buried - not on the trees.

And that brings us back to the other way you can tell that you're in Atlantis and not the Cape - by looking up. Along the borders of Atlantis, you can see a tree line of higher and older trees than anything else in the community. Most of the trees within Atlantis were planted when it was developed, and they are noticeably younger and more ornamental than the native trees that stretch toward the sky along the perimeter. These are the last remaining sentinels of the Ramblewoods - the ones left behind to remind us of what was.

Remaining "Ramblewoods" along the border of Atlantis.

I'm glad I wasn't here when the Ramblewoods were chopped and bulldozed. I'm really not THAT big of a tree hugger, but it would have been tough. If you look closely, however, the Cape does have some remaining places where you can get a taste of what the Ramblewoods might have felt like. Pockets of woods exist along the borders and some within the community that have escaped development for one reason or another. A little exploring will lead you to one if you take the time to look. I bet some of your kids know about them.

When we remodeled our house a few years back, my husband and son started going on what they called "Manly Man" hikes to escape the disarray of our household. They would bundle up (it was winter), take the dog and a walking stick, and head out across the Cape to find adventure. On occasion, I was allowed to join them on these "Manly Man" walks, and I was amazed at the wooded places they had discovered. They're extensive enough that you can briefly forget you're in a suburban community and pretend for a moment to be deep in the woods.

For the most part, these areas lie along the perimeter of the high school or the elementary school and border College Parkway and Cape St. Claire Rd. Another is squeezed in the no man's land where Atlantis meets the Cape on the Southview side - a remaining strip of the Ramblewoods. You have to find the secret entrances, and you never quite know where you'll come out on the other end.

Laika and I ducked into a trail off of Mt. Pleasant just the other day and emerged behind the high school stadium. I have to believe this is a standard path home for high schoolers. There are some well-worn trails in these backwoods, so I know we're not the only ones who have walked them, and we've found evidence that paint-ballers frequent the bigger areas off of College Parkway. In fact, on one of my guys' "Manly Man" walks, the woods erupted in paint-ball fire requiring some hasty evasive action.

Cape Backwoods...

The best time of year to search out these wooded areas is late fall or winter when the mosquitoes and poison ivy have gone dormant and the brush and vines have died back. As safe as I feel in the Cape in general, I wouldn't suggest going alone. It's just a bad idea to go to any remote area by yourself. At a minimum, take a trusty dog with you, and let someone know where you're headed. It's also important to be considerate and respectful of people's property. Occasionally, you emerge near someone's backyard, and you need to allow the time to backtrack if necessary.

As the weather starts to turn cooler, find a few hours on the weekend to walk around the Cape and perhaps you'll find some surprises of your own. It's the best way to get to know a place and your neighbors. Our community will never again be open farmland and deep dark Ramblewoods, but even in suburbia, you might find some traces of what was once here. And in another 50 years, even what's here now will be changed. Enjoy it while you can so you will have your own stories to tell about "the old days".

Not having lived here before Atlantis was developed, I may well be over-romanticizing the true story of the Ramblewoods. If anyone has their own "Ramblewoods" story to tell or can add to or correct my information, please post a comment or e-mail me.


Christy said...

A friend sent me this first-hand account of the Ramblewoods. My guesstimate of 60 acres wasn't so far off! Thanks for sharing your memories of "88 Acres", Stacey!

"My family built a house in 1974 @ 1180 Ramblewood, before Atlantis was there. I grew up there, and my parents lived there until 2004. I remember, sadly when they tore down those beautiful woods--we called it 88 Acres. It was a great place for kids to explore, build forts and raise the occasional mischief. Although I was too young to go to deep into the woods, I remember walking through there and exploring with my dad. It was also a place for the local rebellious teenagers to hang out and engage in teenage activities! It was heartbreaking to see the trees torn down, and as a 10 year old environmentalist, I vowed to never make friends with anyone who moved into Atlantis! Of course, that changed and I have had many friends that lived there, and we did love to ride our bikes through the streets of Atlantis with the only sidewalks we had ever seen! I enjoy all your blogs, but this one really took me down a sentimental path. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, it is nice to know there are still places to explore in our community!"

Louise Z. said...

From Louise Z. My husband has a better recollection than I do about the the community of Atlantis being built in the middle of Cape St. Claire, he contributed the following:

By Dan Zeitlin:
The area that is now Atlantis was a wooded bluff above Deep Creek when we first moved to the Cape in 1974. The property bordered on the Fairwinds Marina, and was not a part of the Cape St. Claire community. Those woods on the bluff provided ground for the sometimes adventures of Cape youth until the development of Atlantis was in full swing.

To the best of my recollection, major development in Atlantis began sometime in the early 1980’s. I remember the landscape being denuded and copious silt runoff into Deep Creek. This condition persisted for many years after initial construction began, turning the creek coffee brown after each rainfall, and a steadily diminishing the depth of the creek. The creek never fully recovered. In addition, the high density of new waterfront houses, some sharing common driveways, contributed to a significant number of piers being constructed along the Atlantis shoreline in later years. Sadly, the ability to easily sail in and out of the creek was lost.

There came a time during construction when Atlantis developers submitted plans for a community marina in Deep Creek to the Corps of Engineers and AA County. The proposed marina would destroy the wetlands at the entrance to deep creek and would result in a major pier encroaching on the channel. Consequently, a group of Cape residents hired a marine surveyor to examine the plans and survey the area. He found that the plans significantly misrepresented the locations of both the mean high water contour and the main channel. The plans were denied as result of his findings, and the Creek was spared the damage of the marina. The current Atlantis fishing pier was later constructed above the wetlands area.

It became clear early on that the builder(s) and some realtors involved with initial Atlantis construction and sales were less than entirely scrupulous. Several of the waterfront houses nearest to Fairwinds marina suffered from basic structural flaws that were the subject of legal actions. At least one builder declared bankruptcy and re-emerged under a new identity. Meanwhile, realtors sold properties in Atlantis with representations that Cape St Claire waterfront facilities would be available to Atlantis homeowners. Misrepresentations by one or another realtor continued for several years despite notifications by the CSCIA to desist.

The Atlantis homeowners discovered the deception and petitioned the Cape for use of CSCIA recreational facilities for a fee. The CSCIA deliberated and declined, reasoning that the quality of use for the over 2,000 Cape families (at the time) would be diminished. A small number of Atlantis residents continued to launch their boats at the CSCIA Deep Creek ramp, park their trailers in the Atlantis entrance road, and walk back to their boats. Others continued to use the Cape beaches. Rigorous enforcement for a period of several years largely put an end to those practices.

At a point later in Broadneck history, the Cape deeded the recreational field across from Graul’s to the County. This put an end to any possible contention over its use by non-residents. All along Atlantis matured, becoming the fine community we know today. Cape and Atlantis residents share the same schools, stores, sports field, and houses of worship. It’s certainly hard to distinguish their residents from each other.

Christy said...

Thank you Louise and Dan for the wonderful and thorough contribution! Sounds like it was quite the controversial issue! I can understand why.

Christy said...

Another comment about the Ramblewoods or "80 acres" reposted from

Ken Etzler says: "My Parents moved to a house on Ramblewood Dr.. 1965.. it was an oyster shelled/ pot hole road. maybe a dozen houses on the entire street. the woods behind our house was nicknamed 80 acres. It was loaded with snakes and turtles. must admit it was pretty cool growing up in the cape. we had some pretty cool tree houses over looking deep creek along the banks of 80 acres. as kids the thing to do back then was to play army and camp. it was an interesting area of the cape. I do remember the large fire that engulf most of the woods. why back when.. i could go on and on about that the part of the cape."

Christy said...

From Billy - reposted from

"That’s definately an interesting story about “ramblewoods”. I was transplanted here back in 75 and lived on Lake Claire Drive for the longest. We often would build bonfires in what is now Atlantis. All the community kids would come and we never thought for a second that it may have been illegal…a time gone past. We just had fun in a different way as there were no video games back then. Anyways, we always referrred to the wooded area as “80 acres”. Now , I’m not saying it was exactly 80 acres per say, but that’s what we all knew it as. I would love to hear more input…"

Christy said...

And more from Ken reposted from the GoBroadneck Facebook page - Thanks so much!:

"Glad to fill you in on what I remember from my days as a kid growing up in the cape. really the most intersting part was that of our education. for my generation. our 4th and 5 th grades were held at the cape methodist church. 6th grade we were bused to the old school house, now a senior center located next to safeway in arnold. middle school was split between annapolis and severna park middle. where we found a home on split shifts at severna park high. that was for those who went to public school.. a large group of my friends attended St Marys through out the years. my sister a few years younger, was one of the first students that went to the new cape elementary. summers days were filled with playing pick up baseball games on grauls field and crabbing on deep creek. Ken"

Louise Z. said...

It's great reading what other people know and remember about the Cape. I hope other Cape folks contribute more memories and history to this blog about the interesting and unique community.

Are there others aware that kids growing up in the Cape never refer to Cape St. Claire as "the Cape," but simply as "Cape?"

Christy said...

Me too, Louise! And I have heard Cape referred to that way. The name of our community is another thing I've always loved about it. It even sounds good!

Unknown said...

The paths by the high school are part of a designated forest buffer zone and have been landscaped and are maintained by the Broadneck H.S. Environmental Club (I know because my daughter is a member). Today in fact the club just spent a couple of hours picking up trash there. So if you like it thank a teen-ager. They do a lot of work there throughout the year.

Christy said...

Thanks for the info., Kathy! I could tell someone had done some work but had no idea who. Very nice! Thanks to the Broadneck High Environmental Club for the great work!

Mandy Johnson said...

Great article. My first house in the Cape was on Ramblewood in 1977 and was almost the last house before the legendary Ramblewoods. At that time we had an abundance of wildlife and waterfowl - it was truly heaven. Having a backyard backing into the woods was the reason my property was purchased. It came as a terrible shock when the bulldozers destroyed our paradise. I do not recall, as a property owner, being consulted or at best asked for a comment on the sale and all of us living at that end of Ramblewood at the time were furious that the acreage had been sold. Frankly, the land was raped by the construction and it happened very, very fast in what seemed like a kitchen table negotiation.There wasn't a tree left and our yards were ravaged by scared animals and snakes as a result. Needless to say our property value was destroyed in the furor. But as always the glorious Cape recovered..a new lovely community was eventually built and thankfully it still maintains its wooded lot appearance. For those of us who sold our homes rather than face the destruction of our dream to the sound of builders and construction on a daily basis it was a sad lesson learned. Fortunately the are, these days, only infill lots left and the CSCIA is much more responsible and held to a higher standard. Hopefully The Cape, bless her, will remain as it is today - Anne Arundel County's best kept secret and still a joy to come home to.

Christy said...

Mandy - thanks so much for your account! I'm sorry it was such a particularly unfortunate experience for you and your neighbors. I can only imagine, and I hadn't even considered the impact on all the displaced animals - the loss of habitat. I know it was a harsh experience for all involved. I share your affection for the Cape and agree that we are the county's best kept secret! :)